The research, presented Wednesday (11/16) at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C., represents the first time scientists have asked participants to combine movie viewing with problem-solving tasks to assess the effects of stress on cognitive flexibility, said David Beversdorf, a neurologist at OSU Medical Center and senior author of the studies. The researchers juxtaposed two very different movies "Saving Private Ryan" and "Shrek" to induce stress or set up a control condition before testing participants for verbal mental flexibility.
"Performance on the tests was significantly impaired after the 'Saving Private Ryan' clip as compared to after the 'Shrek' clip," Beversdorf said. "Therefore, 'real-world' types of stressors can significantly impair the ability to think flexibly."
The research has implications for understanding the range of effects of stress on thinking and could have broader clinical implications for patients with anxiety disorders or substance abuse problems, Beversdorf said.
The related study imposed stressful circumstances on research participants and measured whether impaired thinking related to that stress could be improved by propranolol, a beta-blocker associated with treatment of a variety of disorders ranging from high blood pressure and heart arrhythmias to migraine headaches and panic attacks. The study suggested that healthy people with no history of anxiety disorders may be affected by the medication to modify the negative effects of stress on flexible thinking.